Letters from the AEROSHIP: Program Manager Kaleena Miller Introduces Herself

Greetings AERO Enthusiasts!

My name is Kaleena Miller and I’ve recently joined the AERO staff as a program manager. Thank you for the opportunity to introduce myself and to share my vision for my work with you. I grew up in a suburban community sixty miles north of New York City, spending as much time as possible in the outdoors, be it hiking, skiing, or camping. I incorporated my appreciation and interest in the natural environment with my studies in undergraduate and graduate school. After completing my degrees in Environmental Economics and Environmental Policy, I fulfilled one of my dreams of moving west and settled into Butte, America.  Five years later, I find myself continuing to develop my environmental passion both personally and professionally, and here I am at AERO!

11024208_924665140887328_7146955740602548994_o.jpg

Kaleena Miller (far right) presenting to AmeriCorps members at Carroll College alongside Energy Corps members.

As I look forward into AERO’s future, I imagine the long roads between Montana communities feeling shorter as technology and web based platforms provide us ever increasing opportunities to connect with each other and feel more a part of one big community.  That is what I’d like to move towards in my work at AERO, a systems based approach to sustainable development, in our homes, in our communities, and throughout our expansive state. I look forward to engaging AERO members across the state, listening to communities’ needs and wants and translating them into AERO programming. I hope to contribute to the rich history and experience of this organization for years to come.   

I’m looking forward to meeting each and every one of you!

Kaleena Miller

Program Manager

kmiller@aeromt.org

406-443-7272

 

Energizing Montana!

Our first two clean energy tours were a success! On June 11th and 18th I took a trip to Bozeman and Hamilton, respectively, to give folks in these two towns a tour of some of the clean energy projects which have been completed in the local community. AERO has a history of putting on these tours to connect local home and business owners to solar installers and funding organizations. These tours were a continuation of that history, although the last tour was five years ago.

The Bozeman tour was rather nerve-wracking: after only having one registrant two days before the event, I was close to calling it off to reschedule. Luckily, some last minute registrants came together and we had a nice turn-out of community members . The highlight of this tour was a 5 home micro-development built by Ed Adamson. A quirky, but highly intelligent home builder based out of Bozeman. Ed was able to give us an in-depth look at his home, featuring solar pv, solar hot water, recycled steel as framing for the structure, and passive solar incorporated into the whole project. But this was just the exterior of the home; Ed led us through his house, which featured more of the recycled steel he had welded and shaped himself. Poured concrete flooring with radiant heat embedded provides the home with warmth both from the solar hot water and thermal gain through his passive solar design. Ed included plans to add a wind turbine to the top of the home as well. Finally, Ed had stuccoed every house in the development himself, using locally sourced materials and a European style finish. Ed’s motivation for this project was to create housing that had character, but could be constructed relatively easily, while providing eco-friendly shelter for families. When we finished up at the micro-development, we took a short bike ride down to Bozeman Brewing Company using the amazing Bozeman trail system. When we arrived Todd Scott took us up to the top of the tasting room, where Harvest Solar had installed a 50 Kw Solar array, providing a good amount of the energy of the brewery. When on the roof, Brad Van Wert of Harvest Solar and John Bailey of Thunderbird Development gave us a more in-depth, technical look at the solar array. When the tour was completed we all got a quick look at the brewery and beer!

The Hamilton tour had a slightly different focus, the main components of the tour being Ravalli Electric Cooperative’s community solar project, Valley Solar and Homestead Organics.

Starting out at Valley Solar, the installer of the system was able to give us a more technical breakdown of the array. It was interesting to see a larger scale project from what we had seen in the past. It is also a good option for homeowners who don’t have optimal exposure to install. By purchasing panels at the site, you receive a credit on your next electricity bill but don’t have to worry about installing all of the system on your own home. We next took a trip through town to Homestead Organics, a small organic farm with a diverse set of sustainable energy and agricultural systems. The whole farm was great to see, and we also got a look at the new processing facility being installed for the poultry coop. (Stay tuned for more info on that from AERO as well!) The farm has three solar arrays, two for powering homes and one for cooling a greenhouse with a fan. The cutest part of the tour had to be getting to hold the baby La Mancha goats! The furry creatures were very playful and curious. Once we wrapped things up at the farm, we took a bike ride into town using the trail that runs all the way from Hamilton to Missoula! In town, we got to see the solar arrays on both Higherground Brewing and Bitter Root Brewery. While having  lunch at Bitter Root we took a short amount of time to talk about AERO’s new financing page which you should check out here

We hope you can join us for our last three tours this summer in the Flathead on July 9th, Helena on July 17th and Billings on July 30th! Stay tuned for updates.

Healthy School Foods On the Hill

by Patti Armbrister, AERO Board Member

Four Montana representatives visited their Members of Congress in Washington, D.C. along with nearly 90 people from around the country who traveled to the nation’s capital to advocate for healthy school food on Tuesday, February 23rd.

The team of advocates from Montana met with Representative Zinke’s staff, Senator Daines’ staff, and Senator Tester and his staff on Capitol Hill.

Congress has been working on legislation to reauthorize the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs and several other child nutrition programs. In January, the Senate Agriculture Committee approved a bipartisan child nutrition reauthorization bill, officially called the “Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016.”

The team from Montana asked our Congressmen to support legislation to increase funding for school kitchen equipment improvements, as well as USDA Farm to School Grants for Farm to School programs, and to support science-based nutrition standards for healthy school food for kids.

photo (12) menu DC

PEW Charitable Trust Menu at the Senate. The Hinsdale School Food Service provided their best Montana Lentil Hummus recipe, and the Boulder School’s favorite kale chips were enjoyed on the menu in the DC.

All children deserve to grow up healthy, and school meal programs are successfully providing millions of students with nutritious meals and snacks each day. Research shows that the standards are working: students have many healthy options now, and they are choosing and eating more fruits, vegetables, and nutritious entrees. School cafeterias are classrooms where students develop skills and habits that help them lead healthier lives. We demand the best for our kids in every other classroom; the cafeteria should be no different.

The healthy school food advocates encouraged our Congressmen and Congresswomen to support School Kitchen Infrastructure Needs and Training for School Food Service Personnel by co-sponsoring the School Food Modernization Act (S.540/H.R. 3316). Most districts in our state and across the nation have significant needs for new kitchen equipment and more training opportunities to prepare their workforce to serve healthier meals and snacks. Since 2009, Congress has recognized the need for providing schools with additional resources for school kitchen equipment. USDA Equipment Grants are working at providing schools with equipment like combination ovens, refrigerators, freezers, and other equipment that allow schools to better serve nutritious meals.

IMG_4024

Patti Armbrister (FFA, Agriculture Educator and F2S Coordinator in Hinsdale), Maria Pace (Superintendent of Schools in Boulder), Senator Jon Tester, Ginny Kirby (Bigfork School District Food Service Director) and Kirsten Gerbatsch (FoodCorps Montana Alumna) meet with Senator Tester in his office in Washington D.C.

About the Advocates

Patti Armbrister – Patti is the FFA Advisor / Ag Ed Teacher in Hinsdale, MT. She works closely with the food service staff and writes grants on their behalf. Patti’s dedicated to galvanizing positive change in Hinsdale. She has been influential in the school garden program, outdoor education, local food, serving garden produce in the school meals, and reducing food waste.

Ginny Kirby – Ginny is the Bigfork School District’s Food Service Director. She started in Bigfork three years ago and when she jumped into her role, she really embraced sourcing local foods from the Flathead Valley – everything from local beef to Flathead cherries.

Maria Pace – Maria is the Principal and Superintendent of Boulder Elementary School District. She is a true champion of local and healthy school food options. Boulder has been a FoodCorps service site for 4 years and Maria has been incredibly supportive and involved as a co-site supervisor.

Kirsten Gerbatsch – Kirsten was the FoodCorps Montana Fellow for 2 years, coordinating the statewide FoodCorps program, which is part of a national service organization focused on farm to school programs. Now as a FoodCorps alumna, she wanted to make sure Montana was part of the national conversation about healthy school food. Passionate about policy advocacy at all levels, Kirsten works for the Montana Democratic Party and M+R Strategic Solutions.

 

Registration for April Workshops is Open!

Growing Food Businesses Workshops April 2016SMALL

Register here!

Montana’s food entrepreneurs have gained important new opportunities resulting from changes in state law passed by the 2015 Montana Legislature. This April, the Alternative Energy Resources Organization (AERO), along with the Montana Food and Agriculture Development Centers, will co-host four workshops around the state that will explain these new opportunities and their governing regulations.

Following a two-year study of the state’s food laws and much public comment, Montana’s retail food laws have been significantly rewritten, including changes to allow cottage food operators to make low-hazard food products in their home kitchens, and sell them directly to consumers year-round in any direct venue. The law also clarifies and offers additional opportunities for temporary and mobile food service operations, for farmers direct-marketing their raw agricultural products, and more.

These five-hour workshops will be held in four locations: Bozeman on April 5, Billings on April 7, Arlee on April 13, and Great Falls on April 15. The workshops are for retail food businesses and entrepreneurs, direct-market farmers, market managers, state and local health officials and educators, business and economic development professionals, local food non-profits, and folks with cottage food business ideas. Each workshop will provide participants with the information needed to succeed at starting or expanding a food business, as well as help ensure the law’s successful implementation.

“A real bonus of these workshops is the chance to network with other food entrepreneurs, food regulators, economic developers, and more,” according to Jennifer Hill-Hart, Executive Director of AERO, the workshop sponsor.

Presenters will include staff from the Food and Consumer Safety Section of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, and AERO.

Registration is free and lunch will be provided. Register at aeromt.org/workshops. Each workshop is limited to 30 people. For more information contact Corrie Williamson of AERO at (406) 443-7272 or cwilliamson@aeromt.org.

These workshops are funded by AERO and grants from the Montana Department of Agriculture’s Growth Through Agriculture Program, the High Stakes Foundation, and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program.

Spotlight on Energy: Montana Green Insulation

 

guard dog puppies.jpgBrookside Woolen Mill Makes Montana Green Insulation out of Sheep Wool

Thayne and Michelle Mackey of Malta have a different kind of business.  They process Montana sheep wool into the greenest and safest insulation in production.  Former organic farmers, they decided to sell the farm and go into the wool business.

Purchasing the machinery from Baron Woolen Mill out of Brigham City Utah and bringing it to their mill site on the Hi-line was a major chore, taking 29 Semi loads, 16 pickup trailer loads and a lot of farmer ingenuity.  The machines were brought to Malta and re-fitted while a new shop was built.

Initial Picker-1

 

Sheep wool is the premier insulation: a cubic foot has an R-value of 50, is non-cacogenic, and won’t mold. In addition, wool can’t carry a flame in our atmosphere, and it’s also hypo-allergenic.  The wool is washed in a 120 foot long 105 ton scouring train, one of 3 left in the USA, then cut into small pieces for loose fill insulation.

The next plan for the woolen mill is to start processing mattress bats and Bio-wix reclamation and re-vegetation mats for use after fire, mining damage and landscaping work.   With the new machinery they are buying, Brookside Woolen Mill has the potential to purchase and process 600,000 to one million pounds of Montana wool yearly.

index_0033.png

As BWM is starting to operate year round, they produce a large supply of waste water. BWM is looking into starting a greenhouse and aquaponic production system.  Currently, the wastewater goes into a settling pond and can then be sprinkled on pasture or into a clean water pond.  With the volume of water the mill generates, having another productive use for it only makes sense.  Within three years, the Mackeys would like to have a set of year around greenhouses growing plants and fish or shrimp, with the excess water from that system going into an irrigation system for a large Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) type garden. They could potentially set up a community shared commercial kitchen.  Extra food could be processed, sold and donated to the local foodbank.

Contact the Mackeys to learn more at www.montanagreeninsulation.com or 406-654-4428

 

White ewe

(Originally published in the December 2015 Issue of the AERO Sun Times. )

 

Soil Health Workshop: Human Health is Dependant on Soil Health

by Patti Armbrister, AERO Board Member

The soil health workshop that was held in Missoula was exciting and packed full of alternative sustainable practices for farmers and ranchers. 130 people of all ages were gathered to hear how to improve their soils.

Soil is everything. To create a healthy human future, we must start building soil and stop fighting with nature. Soil carbon is the KEY driver for the nutritional status of plants, and therefore the mineral density in animals and people. Soil carbon is the driver for farm profit, and soil carbon is the key driver for soil moisture holding capacity (frequently the most limiting factor for production). At the workshop hosted by NRCS (Natural Resource Conservation Service) and SWCDM (Soil and Water Conservation Districts of Montana), rancher Gabe Brown  demonstrated that we had better start letting mother nature lead if we are going to survive.

Gabe Brown has 20 years of experience practicing holistic regeneration of his land. The North Dakota farmer opened the session with the statement, “Degraded soil is dirt.” Then he asked the producers in the room, “Why is the only plant growing across the Montana plains winter wheat?” The question was greeted with silence.

Gabe believes that we must have diverse, living plants growing on the soil, because we need to harvest the energy from the sun with photosynthesis in order to take care of the soil: human health is directly related to the soil’s health. Gabe’s says we must, “be conservative when it comes to deploying capital and spending resource but be innovative when it comes to learning and practicing ideas to achieve land regeneration and insure sustainability.”

unnamed-1

Gabe established that the current production model is not working, showing that the US spends more on healthcare than any other country, yet has fallen to the rank of 42nd healthiest country in the world. The US is 1st in ADD & ADHD, chronic degenerative diseases, all auto- immune diseases, all cancers, and obesity.

After selling all of his tilling equipment in 1993, Gabe started no-tilling practices because he was spending more money in synthetic inputs in order to achieve the same level of production. The rangeland in the west historically had 4.0- 6.5 organic matter in the soil before we started farming it, and in 1993 his organic matter had dropped to 1.7- 1.9 and had a filtration rate of only 1⁄2” of rain per hour, which calculated to 190,000,000 gallons over year on 5,000 acres of land. In 2013, that same land is holding 700,000,000 gallons of rainfall with 7.0% organic matter. 1% organic matter in the top 6” of soil can hold between 20,000 and 27,000 gallons of water. At the current levels of organic matter, his land is filtering 13.2” of rain in 6 hours. Just think for a minute about the heavy 7’ rain Valley County received that lead to

massive region wide flooding in 2014: we could have held all of that rain if everyone was using Brown’s practices!

Gabe educated himself with advice from people like Don Campbell, who said, “If you want to make major changes, you have to change how you look at things.” He started studying nature, and nature never leaves the soil un-covered. In 2006 Brown started following Dr. Ademir Calegari’s approach of planting cover crops in multi-species cocktail mixes.

unnamed-2

Gabe’s 5 Keys to Success:

  1. Least amount of mechanical disturbance as possible
  2. Aromor the soil (add or leave leaf or plant litter on the soil surface)
  3. Diversity: there are 140 different species of plants on the native range (use multi species combinations)
  4. Leave roots as long as possible. This adds carbon to the soil and the roots store the carbon. It all begins with photosynthesis. For example, tilling radishes and turnips takes up nitrogen and then lets it stay in the soil; the cover crop ties up the nutrients and hold them in the soils.
  5. Animal impact, have diversity in animals that are using the land. Animals should be used to eat the plant growth and not the regrowth.

It takes time to rebuild your soils: the microorganisms are dead and it takes time to rebuild them and bring them back to life. You should plan on 3-4 years to really start to see improvements. It has taken over 40-50 years to destroy the soil and it will take time to bring it back to life. You need to think long term, be patient, and not expect results in the first year or two.

The Brown Ranch has a 250 head cow and calf operation, hogs, sheep, poultry & egg production, bees, grain, vegetables, fruit, and dogs. All of the animals are grazing on the regrowth of multi species cover crops. All phases of the operation have been trying to follow what mother nature does. For example, the cows calve May-June with no assistance, and wean in April. The calves and cows grace mob-grace on bales placed all over the farm, limiting labor in winter feeding. The cattle are finished on the grass and cover crops, and marketed locally through the Brown’s family mobile restaurant operation. The operation is considered all natural, and they are allow beneficial insects, breaking pest life cycles by rotating grazing practices, eliminating the need for vaccines or any drugs. There are 1,700 beneficial species for every 1 pest species, and Brown stopped using all chemicals in 1993, with the exception of some mild herbicides on very limited bases. He is letting mother nature do the work.

The Brown Ranch sells vegetable produce, pork, eggs, lamb, pet food, beef, honey, all while regenerating landscape. The operation is also did a joint venture, and built a processing meat plant. They encourage ecotourism, and added value to each product they market. In the future,

they are planning a food coop to market even more of their products. The operation is located right on the edge of Bismarck, making marketing retail products easier than if they were in a more remote location.

In closing, Brown stated, “We’re running out of time to make the adjustments to the soil that are required to continue to be productive on the land.” From the depleted state that the agriculture soils of America are in, Gabe has been able to improve soil organic matter to 11.1%. Rather than using synthetic fertilizer and chemical herbicides that are fighting nature, Gabe believes you must get in sync with nature and let her lead.

Gabe is using a warm season cover crop mix of eleven different species of plants to mimic nature and to bring microorganism & earth worms to life in his soils. Both speakers are using mob grazing and winter bale grazing to add armor (plant litter) to improve & enhance soil health.

It looks like diversity drives soil health, and Gabe says if you have 45 days that a plant could grow, then he plants it. For such a short growing season, he plants buckwheat and cowpeas. He also adds 2# of tilling radishes (soil improvement) to every mix and always uses brown ribbed sudan, kale and turnips for grazing. He plants multi-species cover crop (include several clovers in the mix) at the same time he plants winter wheat.

Let’s get started, diversify, plant multi-species cover crops, improve soil, soil life, hold water, and improve human healthy. What are you waiting for?

 

Western Montana’s Local Farmers are Feeding Your Faces, Part 3: County Rail Farm

tpf-and-mdb-austin-insta-sm-cropped

Tracy and Margaret of County Rail Farm.

IMG_6941Tracy and Margaret have been farming at County Rail Farm for 5 seasons. County Rail Farm is located in Dixon, MT, in Western Montana, where the summer has been unusually dry.   These gals have two fields that are on drip irrigation, with water that comes from one of two wells. The other four fields run on overhead sprinklers (hand-line)  from the irrigation ditch. The ditch is fed from the Jocko River, and just upriver from the diversion, the Jocko is fed by a couple springs. This means they didn’t have heavy restrictions this year despite the drought conditions (many farms on the upper Jocko and elsewhere have had their ditches closed because it’s so dry). And these farmers are very, very grateful.

Tracy and Margaret of County Rail Farm.

Tracy and Margaret of County Rail Farm.

The entire property is located on 23 acres, most of which is a giant hill—only 4 acres are flat.  They farm on 1.5 acres every season, with half an acre growing only asparagus and fruit.  On six plots they grow IMG_6940food for Montanans, including: greens, asparagus, cherry tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, garlic, and onions.  County Rail Farm is certified Montana Homegrown as well as certified organic by the MT Dept of Agriculture. For more information, go to their ORGANIC, HOMEGROWN: Our Methods page. Each plot spends about two seasons in production and one season in cover crop, unless it’s a new field and it spends at least 2 seasons in cover crop to build up the soil.  They also grow cherries, peaches, plums, apples, pears, chickens, and goats. The chickens travel around the farm, kicking up and building the soil, as do the goats.  County Rail Farm grows 200-300 pounds of greens per week!

IMG_6946 IMG_6947These farmers have a sweet greens cutter that cuts their greens harvesting time by 1/6! It’s great for greens that grow up (vertical)–like arugula, lettuces, mustards, spinach, etc! (It was invented by a teenager growing up on a farm who wanted to cut down harvest time!)  These two gals and one intern run the farm, with the help of the farm’s owner, Steve, who offers advice, support, and tends to the fruit trees.  County Rail Farm is located at Pommes de Terre Acres, where Jane Kile, a powerhouse behind local food movement in Western Montana, cultivated the land since the 1980’s. Jane and a handful of other farmers in the valley started a small CSA from this property, one of the first in the United States. Jane believed: “Food should feed the soul and the community,” that growing and consuming food was about more than just having something to eat.  Jane and her husband Steve grew fruit and vegetables and raised chickens at Pomme de Terre Acres. The asparagus grown here is Jane’s asparagus and has been growing for 18 years! As the next generation of farmers at Pommes de Terre Acres, the gals of County Rail Farm continue the legacy of  caring for the land and producing food that nurtures body and soul.

Tracy and Margaret live in a charming home on the property which includes a sun porch with a cozy futon surrounded by plants (including a fig tree—be still my heart!).  Interns get to stay in a cabin on the other side of the irrigation ditch, powered by a very long extension cord and no running water.  Tracy casually points out the outhouse she built herself.  I am impressed, but not surprised.  These gals have the lean look of a farming lifestyle, but I wouldn’t challenge Tracy to an arm wrestling contest—and that’s saying something (I took second place at my friends’ Flathead Lake Memorial Day Arm Wrestling Championship in 2014, and probably only took second because I messed up my shoulder at roller derby practice a couple weeks before).  These two are kind, hard-working, funny, and tough.  Like all farmers, amiright?

County Rail Farm was preparing for the weekly farmers’ market and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) pick up (County Rail Farm is the drop off point for the Western Montana Growers Coop CSA pick up), as well as the Farm Dinner Burns St. Bistro was putting on over the weekend.  One word: cannollis. They had locally made cannollis!  I bet you didn’t know Dixon was that fancy. You’re welcome.

photo 1 photo 2

IMG_6949.JPG

Milk yer goats, heah!

I brought my best friend with me to see the farm (yes, adults have best friends). She follows County Rail on Instagram and friends of ours get produce from County Rail Farm and rave about Tracy and Margaret, so my buddy was excited to meet her new heroes.  And one day she’ll trade in her tailored slacks and oxfords for Carhartts and work boots and leave the concrete jungle to move back to Montana to farm. I was giving the hard sell. Tracy and Margaret took us to their building where they clean and sort produce for sale.  They are going through the GAP certification process through the Western Montana Growers Cooperative, and they are  very serious about following GAP IMG_6948rules to a T.  They are documenting everything in harvest logs: What is growing where, when and where does it go, who cleaned and sorted, quantity, where did the produce come from and where did it go… All part of GAP requirements, but also good business data as well.  This data collection and organization is Tracy’s pride and joy.  And it also gives the farmers good info for future seasons.  This farms beats with efficiency and abundance and love. You should try their food and check out their place some time.  Their Harvest Party is coming up on September 20, so mark your calendars for a Dixon trip.  Only come if you like good food, good company, and beautiful country, otherwise, you’ll be miserable.  See you there!